September in Bali: USAT Liberty Wreck

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I realised that I hadn’t really posted much about the wreck itself. Getting there was very convenient. It required a short walk to the beach from the dive centre. We didn’t even need to take our full gear with us, just fins and mask, as the porters would carry our tanks and BCDs out to the beach. On the pebble beach itself, we put on our BCDs then waded into the sea to a suitable depth before leaning back and putting on our fins. When we were all ready, it was time to descend and fin out slowly to the wreck, just a few tens of metres away. Even though the focal point was the wreck, there was still plenty to see along the way. Some days we saw the resident barracuda swim past, other days we saw large schools of fish gathering till they formed a group large enough to provide safety in numbers, like these yellow streak fusiliers. There were so many of them that they cast a dark shadow over the pebbles below.


There wasn’t a great deal of actual wreck to see. Most of the ship is so broken up that it’s hard to find an end, let alone tell which end is bow and which stern. The best I saw was a gun turret sticking out from under a mess of plates overgrown with coral.


At other parts, the wreck simply formed a pretty frame for the coral to grow on. It was obvious that no natural scape would look like this, overrun with coral or not. It was lovely to catch a poor of moorish idols swimming idyllically through the crevices.


Before leaving, we had to take a group shot. There’s Wayan next to me, then Janine and Howard, the couple from Australia; and Gordon, the Scottish photographer who spend a month a Tulamben just to take award-winning photos. Hard core.


Then it was time to say goodbye and head to my next spot in Bali.


July in Vietnam: The Infamous Cu Chi Tunnels AKA Where I Shot an AK-47

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

A trip to Vietnam somehow didn’t quite seem complete without a look at some sights to do with the War. Much as I dislike seeing signs of war and suffering (a previous trip to Auschwitz had me depressed for days), I thought I’d educate myself by at least going to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. This was where the Viet Cong resistance dug out a complex series of narrow tunnels in which they hid during the day and from which they carried out guerrilla attacks on the Americans.

Unsurprisingly, it was in the middle of some nondescript secondary forest.


Even more unsurprisingly, this forest housed some bad ass mosquitoes that attacked in no time, giving me huge bites even on my hand.


We filed past the usual war relics like this abandoned tank that was later infested by tourists hanging off every inch of the bedraggled scrap, trying for a good angle for a photo.


We then got to the tunnels proper, where our guide demonstrated how he managed to get down into entrance of this tiny tunnel.


Slim as he was, he had to do some good wriggling before he managed to squirm free of the tunnel.


And then it was our turn to go in. Here, the tunnels were already enlarged for tourists and I was a little spooked by the close darkness even in that short length.


We were also shown some nasty booby traps where a false floor swung away to reveal wooden spikes. We were told that these spikes were often smeared with excrement, causing wounds to fester and the victim to eventually suffer a prolonged and painful death. It was a way of inflicting as much fear and dread as possible on the enemy.


I was glad to finish up on the info gathering and whizzed quickly round the mock up of living conditions of the Viet Cong resistance. It was time for some experiential learning and I got that by shooting an AK-47. For about US$7, I bought myself five rounds. I held them gingerly, fearing that they would explode if I squeezed too hard.


The nice man in combat fatigues showed me how to hold the gun and plopped the ear muffs on my head. (Don’t laugh, I know it’s all wrong.) And then I fired off the rounds one by one, not knowing whether they hit the target or not. The nice man just smiled and gave me the thumbs up sign when I asked how I did. He was obviously lying. At least he was nice enough not to hurt my pride.


And of course he completed his nice man gig by helping me take some cool pictures of me holding a gun. Woohoo.


August in China: The Lu Family

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

While strolling past the river, we saw a villager shooting at fish with an air gun. We stood and stared for a while, not sure what to make of this. Weren’t guns illegal in China? Then again, this was a remote place that could possibly be outside of the law. Why on earth was he shooting the fish instead of a hook and line? If he got one, how was he going to catch it and we didn’t see any fish in the river anyway. Turned out that it was just for fun and occasionally they’d get a small one.


As we stood around for a while, a lady came up and started chatting with me. It turned out that she was the gun-fish man’s wife. She told me about the village and how they made a living on the farms in the outskirts. I was surprised to find out that they commuted to work every morning on the buses that regularly passed the village. They made enough money to rebuild their wooden house every five years, which was the norm in the Dong area, but rather flabbergasting to me. I thought rebuilding every ten years was already horribly excessive. (Case in point, my alma mater is being rebuilt only ten years after moving to a new building.) I suppose for them, rebuilding is a matter of affording the rent or whatever it cost to stay somewhere else while the new house was being built. Wood and most of the construction material would come from the forest.

It seemed to be a labour-intensive, but fairly idyllic life. There was lots of time to sit around and chat. People here had time to spend with others. I liked that a lot. It helped that everyone in the village was pretty much family. They all had the surname Lu. It was odd at first, but I later realised that most villages in China were like that, including my own ancestral ones. Wives were found outside the village and daughters were married off to a family in a nearby village.


Here, one of the Lu daughters showed me a grasshopper they’d just caught. We were chatting away in the house as the sky darkened, and suddenly there was a slight commotion at the far while. A large grasshopper flew into a special trap woven from grass fibres and scratched loudly but vainly to escape. I asked them what they caught the grasshopper for, and the answer was an insouciant, “Oh, for fun!”


Later that evening, Willy showed the kids a magic trick with cards. They were delighted! It kept them occupied while Mr Lu showed me the family photos. There were photos of him in military service, at the local attractions within the province and with the family.

They had never stepped foot outside of the province before and would never be able to get a permit to leave the country for a holiday. Nonetheless, they seemed resigned to that and appeared content with their lot in life. They were incredibly generous, even asking us to stay the night with them and not waste money at the guesthouse.


Before going back, we took pictures with the family. They were very happy to gather the family round for it. We left with them telling us to please come back and visit soon.


August in China: Yangshuo

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Tortoise and I headed over to Yangshuo, which was about a couple of hours away by coach. While still touristy, this place certainly has a lot more charm than Guilin. It has slightly cheesy but very atmospheric restored ancient street, complete with old-style inns and dining places. It was fantastic walking down the street and looking up to see the hills looming above.

Still, there was no escaping the tourists. Check out the number of tour buses and coaches in the small tourist parking area.


We made arrangements through our guest house for a trip on the Li River. After about an hour on public transport in a packed minibus and then a modified jumbo tuk-tuk of sorts, we came face to face with one of the most famous images in China.


This appears on the back of a ¥20 note so we had no choice but to follow the lead of the domestic tourists to whip out our prepared notes for a photo!


We then got onto our private bamboo raft and chugged up the river. It’s a pity that the sun was in our eyes and the light wasn’t good for photos. You’ll just have to make do with the ones here.


The limestone formations here covered the gamut of weird and wonderful. Our map described a good 10 names of features we could hardly make out. After a couple of times shouting over the phut-phut of the engine to our raft driver, we gave up trying to figure out which name corresponded to which spot. It was all starting to look the same kinds of weird to us.


Before long, other rafts carrying domestic tourists came by and starting spraying water on us. They’d bought plastic spray guns from street vendors and indiscriminately drenched passing rafts. We beseeched our bewildered raftman to avoid them as far as possible. He probably wondered why we didn’t want to have fun playing in the magical murky waters. No good pictures of the water fights for fear of getting too close and then being caught in the crossfire!